Not only has COVID put a significant dent in our social lives, but it also has impacted many operations and practices throughout food processing facilities. Unfortunately, this includes one area that has consumers worried, inspections of food facilities. With all the new requirements and protocols that have come out of this pandemic, the industry has had to learn to alter their inspections. Some are even using video technology as a substitute. With COVID laying a foundation that will likely alter the way inspections are completed in the future, what should processing facilities across the country expect moving forward?
According to the FDA, inspectors are “required to inspect facilities that handle high-risk foods every three years. Facilities handling foods not deemed high-risk must be inspected every five years” (Fox, 2019, pp. 13). With being in the midst of a global pandemic, the FDA has halted these inspections, but is still conducting some necessary inspections for specific scenarios like outbreaks of foodborne illness and Class 1 recalls.
To temporarily replace in-person inspections, many auditors are allowing for special accommodations to be made such as remote and hybrid audits (Black, 2021, pp. 5).
Aside from the FDA, other auditors such as BRCGS and SQFI are offering blended options. BRCGS is offering certificate extensions for up to 6 months with a risk assessment and review. Remote assessments are also available and require a video audit of the facilities storage and production spaces. SQFI is postponing certifications for extenuating circumstances and have implemented additional processes for risk assessment (Black, 2021, pp. 7). For more information on other auditors current COVID policies, click here.
Once in-person audits can resume in the future, the FDA plans to host pre-announced audits for FDA-regulated businesses. According to an interview with Frank Yiannas, it is predicted that health and safety are going to be important factors moving forward with inspections. It is also assumed that consumers are going to want to know not only how their food is produced, but also how it will be safe enough for them to eat. Fortunately, the FDA is in the works of implementing a Smarter Food safety initiative that will allow for a digital way to trace the food system (U.S. food & Drug Admin., 2020, pp. 31).
As for now it seems unknown when in-person audits will fully resume. The FDA stated in a press release that they will likely resume when there is a consistent downward trend in new COVID cases and hospitalizations in geographic areas they are working in (2020, pp. 6). Until then, they will continue to make significant strives with food safety, making it stronger than ever.
Black, J. (2021, January 29). Food Safety Audits During a Pandemic: What You Should Know and How to Prepare. FoodSafetyTech. https://foodsafetytech.com/column/food-safety-audits-during-a-pandemic-what-you-should-know-and-how-to-prepare/.
FDA. (2020, April 16). Food Safety and Availability During and Beyond COVID-19. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/conversations-experts-food-topics/fdas-perspective-food-safety-and-availability-during-and-beyond-covid-19.
Fox, M. (2019, January 15). FDA to resume food safety inspections Tuesday. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/fda-resume-food-safety-inspections-tuesday-n958631.
Hahn, S. M. (2020, July 10). Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA prepares for resumption of domestic inspections with new risk assessment system. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-fda-prepares-resumption-domestic-inspections-new-risk-assessment-system.
Sjerven, J. (2021, January 21). COVID-19 forces FDA to alter food safety inspection practices. Food Business News. https://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/15740-covid-19-forces-fda-to-alter-food-safety-inspection-practices.